Quick Review: CROSS MY HEART and HOPE TO DIE by James Patterson (Arrow/Grand Central)

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Catching up with Detective Alex Cross…

Alex Cross’s whole world is crashing down around him.

He has been hunted, stalked like prey, his predator priming himself for the kill.

Cross has devoted his life to protecting others. Now he’s unable to protect even those closest to him.

As a police detective, he has made many enemies, but never like this.

Everything he loves is being taken from him.

Soon he will have nothing and no one left.

These two novels are linked, which is I think the first time Patterson has chosen to make consecutive novels a single story (not including the cross-book storyline featuring the Mastermind from the earlier books, although this is a similar idea, if shorter). Cross My Heart ended on quite the cliffhanger, with Alex Cross distraught and lost, so I was very eager to get my hands on Hope to Die. The 22nd and 23rd installments in the series, it’s a little tricky to figure out anything new to write about the series.

Patterson still has a knack for writing fast-paced, engaging thrillers that have readers gripped from the first page. He still sometimes veers a little too far into the schmaltzy. His villains remain as deliciously evil and colourful as always, complete with hapless henchmen. In Cross My Heart, Cross is investigating a string of murders, but also being stalked and provoked by an elusive other psychopath fixated with him and determined to torment him by getting to his family, which forms the plot for Hope to Die. Given Patterson’s usual style, which always seems to include over-emoting characters, Cross is surprisingly unemotional following the events of the first couple of chapters in the second novel. They unfold quickly, somewhat conveying Cross’s slight disassociate state. The introduction of Ava into the story added a nice new twist on the family dynamic, and her street-learned skills prove invaluable in Hope to Die. Other new characters are welcome additions, too, creating some variety in perspectives.

Both of the novels were quick reads, and I zapped through them. It’s not difficult to see why Patterson is so successful. The novels weren’t perfect — in particular, with Hope to Die, I couldn’t help but think the tornado and psychic could have been dispensed with. Minor quibble, though, really. If you’ve been reading and enjoying the Alex Cross series, then Cross My Heart and Hope to Die should appeal as they very much offer more of the same quality and crime thriller suspense. Solid continuations of the series, I look forward to reading the 23rd.

Published in the UK by Arrow, and in the US by Grand Central Publishing.

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New Books (October)

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Featuring: Neal Asher, Paolo Bacigalupi, Marie Brennan, Genevieve Cogman, Brian Cox, William Gibson, Mira Grant, Kate Griffin, John Grisham, Nicholas Kaufmann, Jasper Kent, Stephen King, Ben Lerner, Peyton Marshall, Mark Charan Newton, Anne Rice, Justin Richards, Sebastian Rotella, Patrick Rothfuss, John Sandford & Michele Cook, Wilbur Smith, Edward St. Aubyn, Sam Sykes, Kazuaki Takano, Lynne Truss, John Twelve Hawks, Simon Unsworth, Debbie Viguie, SJ Watson

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Quick Review: “The Innocent” by Taylor Stevens (Arrow)

StevensT-M2-TheInnocentUKReviewed by H.

The second Vanessa Michael Munroe thriller

Eight years ago, a man walked five-year-old Hannah out the front doors of her school and spirited her over the Mexican border, taking her into the world of a cult known as The Chosen.

Now, after years of searching, childhood survivors of the group have found the girl in Argentina. But getting her out is a whole new challenge.

For the rescue they need someone who is brilliant, fearless and utterly ruthless.

They need Vanessa Michael Munroe.

This is the second novel featuring the tough, highly-competent private detective Vanessa Michael Munroe (after The Informationist). It’s a great, gripping read – fast-paced and thought-provoking, this should certainly appeal to fans of Stieg Larsson and Robert Ludlum, and anyone looking for a thriller series with a strong female protagonist.

Drawing on her own experiences with a cult, Stevens does a fantastic job of highlighting the sinister influence and nature of such groups. The novel also fleshes out Munroe’s own past, expands and deepens the relationships she has with her friends and colleagues. The coersive tactics, the brainwashing that make those taken in… It’s very well explained and brought to creepy life on the page.

Stevens does a really fantastic job, here. Her prose is tightly-written, the plot very well-paced (I read this very quickly), and her characters three-dimensional, realistic and developing well. This is a superb series, and if you haven’t discovered Munroe’s adventures, yet, then I strongly urge you do so. It’s not necessary to start with The Informationist, though, as this is an independently intelligible sequel. There are more novels to come, and also an eBook novella available. I can’t wait to read the third novel, The Doll.

Very highly recommended.

Also on CR: Interview with Taylor Stevens

An Interview with TAYLOR STEVENS

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Taylor Stevens is the author of the new thriller THE INFORMATIONIST. It has an interesting premise and a pretty unique-seeming protagonist. Naturally, I wanted to learn more after the book arrived in the mail, and so Stevens’s UK publicist (Arrow) kindly set up this interview…

Let’s start with an introduction: Who is Taylor Stevens?

I’ve been asked many, many questions but this is the first I’ve been presented with this one, so let’s see: Officially, Taylor Stevens is an award-winning, New York Times bestselling author, whose books have received critical acclaim, are published in over twenty languages, and whose first title, The Informationist, has been optioned for film by James Cameron’s production company. Unofficially, Taylor Stevens is a harried, fulltime working mom, who juggles after-school activities and all the crazy that goes into running a household, with making up stories to pay the bills.

Your latest novel, The Informationist, was published by Arrow in December. How would you introduce the novel to a potential reader? Is it part of a series?

The Informationist is the beginning of tragic, intense, victorious, globe-trotting, rollercoaster-ride of a kick-butt series, though I had no idea that would be the case when I wrote it. As readers, we tend to categorize books because this allows us to explain in quick brushstrokes how they fit into the reading experience. For that reason, these stories are labeled thrillers, although there is more to them than that. They are in the vein of Jason Bourne, or James Bond, or Jack Reacher—albeit with a woman in the lead who could go toe-to-toe with any one of the men.

What inspired you to write the novel? And where do you draw your inspiration from in general?

Well, the impetus and inspiration winds so far back that we would take pages to get to the root of it, but in its most concise version: I had lived in Equatorial Guinea, a tiny island off the coast of Central Africa, for a little over two years. When I made the decision to start writing, it was because I wanted to bring this country to life for readers who might never have the chance to visit. Without a doubt, the first two books are drawn heavily from things I lived and experienced, but we’re heading into the fifth book now and, as I often joke to my readers, “I only have so much life trauma to pull from and I’d really like to keep it that way.” World news and current events work quite well as alternative source material.

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The Informationist UK Cover

How were you introduced to thrillers/crime fiction?

Somewhat by accident, I think. When I first began writing fiction, I had no concept of genre. I had been born and raised in a very strict, isolated, and controlled religious environment in which my education stopped completely when I was 12 years old. We weren’t allowed to watch TV, or listen to music from the outside, and were also forbidden from reading fiction. When finally I was free of that and able to make my own choices, not only did I have no reference as to what authors to read, I was too poor to go to bookstores to buy books. Everything I read came to me second hand, and as it was, most of the novels were suspense and thrillers. So I came to fiction with the understanding that stories were meant to be “exciting,” and that was what I emulated when I began to tell stories of my own — which actually worked out quite nicely given that writing suspense is what I’m good at.

How do you enjoy being a writer and working within the publishing industry? Do you have any specific working, writing, researching practices?

I cannot even imagine what life would have been like had this whole “writing thing” not worked out. I’m overwhelmed by the goodness that has come through the publication experience, ever grateful for each day that passes wherein I’m able to pay the bills while still being available for my children. That said, I do not really consider myself a “creative” or even a “writer” so much as a storyteller who happens to use the written word as the medium for communication. My personality is more inclined toward spread-sheets and paperwork, so imagining the stories to life is what’s most difficult about the process. Once the stories are built, the bean-counter in me gets to have fun with the editing and tightening, which is handy I suppose, because revision is where the craft lies. As far as writing and researching practices, these have changed often throughout the years, but the one thing that has been consistent is “butt in chair.” That’s the only way to get a book written.

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The Informationist US Cover

When did you realize you wanted to be an author, and what was your first foray into writing? Do you still look back on it fondly?

You see, this is a very difficult question to answer. Growing up, I had no concept that “being an author” was even an option. Thoughts of becoming a doctor or lawyer, bartender or chef were as foreign as those of becoming a handyman within one of the communes — which, in our culture, was strictly a male job. As a girl, the best I could hope for was to become a personal assistant to one of those higher up the cult food-chain, and in my early twenties I did wind up in that unpaid position for a few years. As children we were essentially child labor, and as we had no mental stimulation and we were so bored, I would make up stories for entertainment. When I was fourteen, I started writing them down, but this turned out very badly. When my notebooks were discovered, I was isolated from my peers and the “demons” “exorcised” and my writing was confiscated and burned. I was told never to write fiction again, or else. I was in my thirties, at home with two babies, when I realized that I wanted to give storytelling another try. But I didn’t start writing with the idea of “becoming an author.” I wrote just so I could say I had finished a book, and to give a finger to the people who had controlled me in the past. There was no way I could have possibly predicted or even imagined what would follow from the determination to see that one decision through.

Taylor Stevens (credit must be used Alyssa Skyes)

Taylor Stevens (Credit: Alyssa Sykes)

What’s your opinion of the genre today, and where do you see your work fitting into it?

To be honest, I have no idea. I’m still sorely under-read and rather painfully oblivious to current trends. I know that there is so much available for readers to explore and that my books are just a drop in a vast ocean of goodness. I’m completely honored to be part of that ocean, though, and treasure every one of my fans and readers — they’re the ones who’ve kept me in business and I owe them a huge debt of gratitude.

What other projects are you working on, and what do you have currently in the pipeline?

The next in the series, THE INNOCENT, takes readers inside the cult of my childhood. It is as close to real life as I could get in a genre-specific, word-count based, fictional format. For that reason, it is more psychological and has less blood and violence than the first — but the realism is uncomfortably accurate. The high octane continues with THE DOLL, and in the United States we are now getting ready to publish the fourth in the series, THE CATCH. I’m excited because with each new title I hear from more readers, and I do love to interact with my readers. For those who are interested, I email regularly via my website.

What are you reading at the moment (fiction, non-fiction)?

SmithHW-PowerOfPerceptionI’m a firm believer in the need for continual self-growth. I feel that the more I am able to shed bad habits and wrong ways of thinking, the happier and more balanced my life will be — and there is always room for improvement. I have just finished Power of Perception by Hyrum W. Smith. It’s a tiny book, basically the direct transcript of a speech that he gives, but the principles, simple as they are, are life-changing. Based on how much I appreciated the speech, I purchased two of his older books, 10 Natural Laws of Successful Time and Life Management and What Matters Most: The Power of Living Your Values, and plan to start them shortly.

What’s something readers might be surprised to learn about you?

Considering the characters that I write and the life background I’ve risen from, readers are often surprised—perhaps disappointed—to discover that I’m very sweet, happy, empathetic, content, and polite in real life. I also cry when I see or experience something beautiful, or when something makes me happy (which is often).  And I hate suspense and blood and gore, which I find hilarious, seeing as that’s exactly what I write. I suppose it’s different with my own work because I get to control the story and I know how it ends. I love spoilers. Sometimes that’s the only thing that will get me to watch a particularly suspenseful movie. With suspenseful books, I have to read the last chapter first.

What are you most looking forward to in the next twelve months?

Over the past few years, during quiet spells, or while waiting to receive material back from my publisher, I’ve worked on side project geared more toward a younger audience. Oblivious as I am, I couldn’t say what genre the book is, only that it’s not a thriller. I finally finished the writing just last month and the response from test readers has been quite enthusiastic. The manuscript is in the hands of my agent now, and I’m nervous because it’s unlike anything I’ve done before. If I could have a wish granted over these next twelve months, it would be to see something wonderful happen with that story. I’m also quite excited to begin on the fifth book in the Vanessa Michael Munroe series.

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Be sure to visit the author’s website, and follow her on Twitter and Facebook, for more information and news. The Informationist by Taylor Stevens is available now (Arrow Books in the UK, Crown in the US).

An Interview with ALMA KATSU

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A few days ago, a copy of Alma Katsu’s third novel, The Descent dropped through the mailbox. It is the third novel in the author’s The Immortal trilogy, but I didn’t (at the time) know too much about the series or the author, so I took the opportunity to send her some questions.

Who is Alma Katsu?

As a girl, I wanted to have a magical, fantastical life but the outlook was kind of narrow and grim, and I think that’s why I turned to creating my own worlds in fiction. Then, funnily enough, I ended up having a life that was the stuff of fantasy: working in intelligence, traveling, doing all this technical, math-y stuff that I never would’ve thought possible for a little storyteller. Lesson: you never know where life will take you.

I thought we’d start with your fiction: Your latest novel, The Descent, is the final part of The Immortal trilogy (to be published by Arrow). How would you introduce the series to new readers, and what can fans expect from this third book?

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UK & US Covers

The Immortal trilogy is the story of a young woman, Lanore McIlvrae, who goes to the very ends of the world—really sort of transcends the fabric of reality—for love, only to find out that she shouldn’t have done it, that she was wrong to do it. Just when she’s resolved that she’s going to be unhappy for the rest of her life because she can’t have the man she loves, she finds out that this other man has fallen in love with her, a terrible evil man who is willing to try to change for her if she will give him the chance. And that’s where we are in The Descent: will she give them both the chance to live happily ever after together?

What inspired you to write the novel? And where do you draw your inspiration from in general?

I wanted to write the story of a woman whose love is so strong that it would literally transcend time, but who ends up making a terrible mistake and paying for it for eternity. Great big, tragic love stories in general are the inspiration for the books: Tess of the D’Urbervilles (I’m a big Thomas Hardy fan); Anna Karenina; Gothics such as Dracula. Anne Rice’s Interview With the Vampire was a big inspiration for The Taker, but mostly for the structure: a character who has lived a long time and under unusual circumstances looks back on her tragic life.

I’ve noticed that as a writer I’m drawn to the same themes over and over and they tend to be tragic: the glory and the tyranny of love, losing your heart’s desire because of a Faustian bargain you’ve made. I’m starting to think about broader themes, too, such as seemingly insurmountable injustice. And I seem to be inspired by specific periods and places in history.

How were you introduced to genre fiction?

I am an eclectic reader. I started reading adult stuff very young. Edgar Allan Poe at eight, I think. It was a mix of everything, all kinds of genre as well as more mainstream and literary fiction. That’s probably one of the reasons I mix genres as a writer: as long as the story is great and the characters are rich and fully developed, that’s all that matters.

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How do you enjoy being a writer and working within the publishing industry? Do you have any specific working, writing, researching practices?

For someone who has spent most of her adult life working for the government, where there is no profit motive, understanding the business side of publishing has been quite an experience. It’s not enough to have a great story, to have something that’s really well written if it doesn’t catch on with readers. You see so many really wonderful things that don’t find the readership they deserve and it’s heartbreaking.

I work on my writing every day, in addition to all the promotional things that writers must do. I constantly strive to be a better, more efficient writer. It’s something I learned from my day job, as an analyst: to make improvement a conscious decision. I’m not a fast writer by nature and that’s what I hope to work on in 2014: to do better early drafts so they don’t need so much revision. That probably makes me sound really dull and I’m afraid it’s true.

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Books 1 & 2 – UK Covers

When did you realize you wanted to be an author, and what was your first foray into writing? Do you still look back on it fondly?

When I was very young, my sister and I (with whom I shared a bedroom) used to stay up very late into the night telling a never-ending story. We did this for years. She grew tired of it and I suppose that’s when I started writing little stories of my own. Funny, I recently learned from her daughter (all grown up) that she used to do the same thing with her cousin (my other sister’s oldest daughter) whenever they got together. They would make up stories together. It must be in the blood.

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Books 1 & 2 – US Covers

What’s your opinion of the genre today, and where do you see your work fitting into it?

That’s a tough question for me because I don’t think my books fall into any particular genre. They are similar to books like Outlander by Diana Gabaldon, or The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova, or (dare I say?) The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger in that they are mainstream fiction with elements of various genres. In the case of The Immortal trilogy, I would say they’re mainstream fiction with historical, fantasy, romance and supernatural elements in them.

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What other projects are you working on, and what do you have currently in the pipeline?

I just came up with the idea of a story that deals with witches in Colonial New England – having grown up in a historical area in Massachusetts and fascinated with witches, I’m surprised it’s taken me this long to come up with a story! I may be in the honeymoon phase, but I’m really excited about it. This means putting aside – again – an idea I have for a pure historical (no magic) set in Georgian times and involving highwaymen. I have a pile of books for research or that one, waiting to be read.

What are you reading at the moment (fiction, non-fiction)?

I’m reading Entertaining Satan as research for the novel I described earlier and I hope to start Jeanette Winterson’s The Daylight Gate soon. Also finishing up The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt on audio because I like listening to audiobooks before bedtime. Eleanor Catton’s The Luminaries is on deck, as well as Freedom by Jonathan Franzen, and Perfume by Patrick Suskind. And that’s just the books that have come in within the past few weeks. Honestly, there are so many books piled up here it’s a wonder I can get to the door.

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What’s something readers might be surprised to learn about you?

For a few brief years in the 1980s, in Boston and Washington, D.C., I was a music journalist. I got to interview musicians like the Cars, Joan Jett, the Go-Gos and the Ramones.

What are you most looking forward to in the next twelve months?

I’m changing day jobs. It’s to a place where I used to work and so I’m looking forward to seeing a lot of old friends again. However, since the traffic in the D.C. area is horrendous, it also means selling our house and moving, which will be an absolute nightmare.

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The Taker and The Reckoning are out now in the UK (Random House) and US (Simon & Schuster). The Descent will be published in January 2014. Be sure to follow the author on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads, as well as check out her website for more information as well.

Books Received (November 2013)

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Another impressive book-haul, this month. Also rather varied, too, which is always nice. As per usual, I can’t read them all instantaneously, so here is an initial, first-look at the books that are coming soon to the blog and to bookstores/-shelves near you.

Anon-SagaOfTheVolsungsAnonymous & James L. Byock (trans,), The Saga of the Volsungs (Penguin)

Legends from the Ancient North: Five classics of Norse literature that inspired J.R.R. Tolkien’s epic vision in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings

Legendary fantasy writer J.R.R. Tolkien spent much of his life studying, translating, and teaching the ancient tales of northern Europe at Oxford and drew on them for his own writing. These epic stories, with their wizards and knights, dragons and trolls, cursed rings and magic swords, are as fascinating today as they were thousands of year ago. Reading them brings us as close as we will ever get to the magical worlds of the Vikings and the origins of their twentieth-century counterpart: Tolkien’s Middle Earth.

Based on Viking Age poems and composed in thirteenth-century Iceland,The Saga of the Volsungs combines mythology, legend, and sheer human drama in telling of the heroic deeds of Sigurd the dragon slayer, who acquires runic knowledge from one of Odin’s Valkyries. Yet the saga is set in a very human world, incorporating oral memories of the fourth and fifth centuries, when Attila the Hun and other warriors fought on the northern frontiers of the Roman empire. In his illuminating introduction Jesse L. Byock links the historical Huns, Burgundians, and Goths with the extraordinary events of this Icelandic saga. With its ill-fated Rhinegold, the sword reforged, and the magic ring of power, the saga resembles the Nibelungenlied and has been a primary source for such fantasy writers as J.R.R. Tolkien and for Richard Wagner’s Ring cycle.

Viking mythology? Love it. Really looking forward to reading this ASAP.

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CarverW-DeadSetWill Carver, Dead Set (Arrow)

Following on from Girl 4 and The Two, Det. Inspector January David is back in a fantastic new thriller.

Detective Inspector January David doesn’t love me.

He loves his missing sister. He loves his job.

But he doesn’t love me. Not in the way he should.

I am his wife. I am still his wife.

And I will do anything for him.

No matter what I have to sacrifice.

A British crime series’ latest instalment heads to New York. I haven’t read the previous books in the series, but I am rather intrigued. I do have a tendency to prefer US-based Thrillers (as I’m sure I’ve mentioned on here many times), so something that straddles both the US and UK? Well, this could be interesting.

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Crilley-T&N2-TheOsirisCursePaul Crilley, The Osiris Curse (Pyr)

Steampunk Sherlock Holmes meets The X-Files with a dash of romantic tension and a large dose of adventure.

When Nikola Tesla is murdered and blueprints for his super weapons are stolen, Tweed and Nightingale are drawn into a global cat and mouse chase with his killers. What’s more, it seems that the people who shot Nikola Tesla are the same people responsible for Octavia’s mother’s disappearance. As the two cases intertwine, Tweed and Nightingale’s investigations lead them to a murdered archeologist and a secret society called The Hermetic Order of Set. Fleeing the cult’s wrath, they go undercover on the luxury airship, The Albion, setting out on her maiden voyage to Tutankhamen’s View, a five star hotel built in the hollowed-out and refurbished Great Pyramid of Giza.

In Egypt, the duo begin to unravel the terrible truth behind Tesla’s death, a secret so earth-shattering that if revealed it would mean rewriting the entire history of the world. But if the cult’s plans aren’t stopped, Britain may lose the future.

The second Tweed & Nightingale Adventure. I haven’t been swept up by the steampunk revival. From my (admittedly brief) look at synopses, they do seem to be rather same-y. True, a lot of fantasy and sci-fi novels are also striking me as similar/derivative. I do, however, really like Egyptian mythology and history, so maybe a steampunk-ification of same might be enough to get me hooked? We’ll see.

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Fultz-SevenSorcerersJohn R. Fultz, Seven Sorcerers (Orbit)

The Almighty Zyung drives his massive armies across the world to invade the Land of the Five Cities. So begins the final struggle between freedom and tyranny.

The Southern Kings D’zan and Undutu lead a fleet of warships to meet Zyung’s aerial armada. Vireon the Slayer and Tyro the Sword King lead Men and Giants to defend the free world. So begins the great slaughter of the age…

lardu the Shaper and Sharadza Vodsdaughter must awaken the Old Breed to face Zyung’s legion of sorcerers. So begins a desperate quest beyond the material world into strange realms of magic and mystery.

Yet already it may be too late…

This is the third novel in Fultz’s epic fantasy series, one I have sadly not been able to get around to. Part of this is because I heard very mixed things when the first book (Seven Princes) came out. I am, nevertheless, somewhat interested in giving this a try. I’ll have to dig out my copy of the first book.

Also on CR: Interview with John R. Fultz

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HartC-CastleRock-2014Carolyn Hart, Castle Rock (Seventh Street)

A young woman is convinced she’s living with a murderer among family members, lodgers, and ranch hands in New Mexico.

Serena Mallory came to the huge New Mexico ranch of Castle Rock as a twelve-year-old orphan. She grew up as the ward of owner Dan McIntire. Now in her early twenties, Serena watches the ranch’s idyllic summer charm disappear when Dan dies in a riding accident. The night before his accident, she overheard him arguing with someone, and since his death, a series of strange accidents has plagued the ranch. Convinced that Dan’s accident was anything but, Serena sets out to find the guilty party.

The latest re-issue from Seventh Street Books. Hart’s novels are all well-crafted, enjoyable, and pretty quick reads. Seventh Street Books, an imprint of Prometheus (who also own Pyr), have been doing a wonderful job of re-issuing classic crime and thriller novels, alongside a roster of new authors as well. If you haven’t checked any of their books out yet, I would strongly recommend you do.

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HelmreichWB-NewYorkNobodyKnowsWilliam B. Helmreich, The New York Nobody Knows (Princeton University Press)

As a kid growing up in Manhattan, William Helmreich played a game with his father they called “Last Stop.” They would pick a subway line and ride it to its final destination, and explore the neighborhood there. Decades later, Helmreich teaches university courses about New York, and his love for exploring the city is as strong as ever.

Putting his feet to the test, he decided that the only way to truly understand New York was to walk virtually every block of all five boroughs–an astonishing 6,000 miles. His epic journey lasted four years and took him to every corner of Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx, and Staten Island. Helmreich spoke with hundreds of New Yorkers from every part of the globe and from every walk of life, including Mayor Michael Bloomberg and former mayors Rudolph Giuliani, David Dinkins, and Edward Koch. Their stories and his are the subject of this captivating and highly original book.

We meet the Guyanese immigrant who grows beautiful flowers outside his modest Queens residence in order to always remember the homeland he left behind, the Brooklyn-raised grandchild of Italian immigrants who illuminates a window of his brownstone with the family’s old neon grocery-store sign, and many, many others. Helmreich draws on firsthand insights to examine essential aspects of urban social life such as ethnicity, gentrification, and the use of space. He finds that to be a New Yorker is to struggle to understand the place and to make a life that is as highly local as it is dynamically cosmopolitan.

It’s no secret how much I love New York City. I have lived there three times, and I wish I could move there semi-permanently. After reading (and loving) Sudhir Venkatesh’s Floating City, I was really interested in reading more books about the city. Luckily, Princeton University Press offered this one. I’ll be starting it as soon as I finish The Bully Pulpit (another superb history book from Doris Kearns Goodwin).

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Tanya Huff, Valour’s Choice & The Better Part of Valour (Titan Books)

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VC: In the distant future, humans and several other races have been granted membership in the Confederation – at a price. They must act as soldier/protectors of the far more civilized races who have long since turned away from war…

BPoV: Best known for her Quarters series and vampire novels, Tanya Huff stunned critics and fans with Valour’s Choice, her first military science fiction novel. This thrilling sequel follows the Confederation’s investigation of a seemingly abandoned alien spaceship.

I’ve only recently mentioned these two novels on the blog (in Upcoming posts). They look, on the surface, like great, fun military sci-fi novels – must-reads for fans of Jack Campbell, Rachel Bach and many others. I do like that the genre is starting to get more attention in the UK, and Titan Books in particular have been releasing some of the best available. Hopefully, other publishers will get in on the act, too, and bring some more of the great authors writing in the sub-genre to our shores.

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HuffT-TheSilveredTanya Huff, The Silvered (Titan Books)

The Empire has declared war on the small, were-ruled kingdom of Aydori, capturing five women of the Mage-Pack, including the wife of the were Pack-leader. With the Pack off defending the border, it falls to Mirian Maylin and Tomas Hagen — she a low-level mage, he younger brother to the Pack-leader — to save them. Together the two set out on the kidnappers’ trail, racing into the heart of enemy territory. But with every step the odds against their survival, let alone their success, grow steeper…

Fantasy, Werewolves, and a dash of Steampunk? That sounds pretty cool… True, as I mentioned above, I’m not the largest steampunk fan. But, given how well-received this novel has been, not to mention how great Huff is as an author, I’m really looking forward to diving into this one.

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Lloyd-1-MoonsArtificeTom Lloyd, Moon’s Artifice (Gollancz)

In a quiet corner of the Imperial City, Investigator Narin discovers the result of his first potentially lethal mistake. Minutes later he makes a second.

After an unremarkable career Narin finally has the chance of promotion to the hallowed ranks of the Lawbringers – guardians of the Emperor’s laws and bastions for justice in a world of brutal expediency. Joining that honoured body would be the culmination of a lifelong dream, but it couldn’t possibly have come at a worse time. A chance encounter drags Narin into a plot of gods and monsters, spies and assassins, accompanied by a grief-stricken young woman, an old man haunted by the ghosts of his past and an assassin with no past.

On the cusp of an industrial age that threatens the warrior caste’s rule, the Empire of a Hundred Houses awaits civil war between noble factions. Centuries of conquest has made the empire a brittle and bloated monster; constrained by tradition and crying out for change. To save his own life and those of untold thousands Narin must understand the key to it all – Moon’s Artifice, the poison that could destroy an empire.

Tom Lloyd. The fantasy author who hasn’t received nearly as much attention on CR as he deserves. With the start of this new series, though, I really have no excuse not to get in early. Hopefully very soon. (Oh, I’ve said that a lot, recently…)

Also on CR: Interview with Tom Lloyd, Catch-Up Interview,
Guest Post (on Terry Pratchett)

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untitledDavid Logan, The League of Sharks (Quercus)

In a world where humans have disappeared, sharkmen are the ultimate predators.

Junk’s sister has been stolen.

Snatched from her bed in the dead of night, Ambeline doesn’t stand a chance. No one believes Junk saw a monster take his sister. No one believes he’s not to blame.

So begins Junk’s quest to find Ambeline’s kidnapper. His journey will take him to a future world where animal species have evolved, and where the cult of the League of Sharks – the cult that stole Junk’s sister – is etched into folklore…

The publisher offered this to me, and I was rather confused by the premise. So I said sure, I’ll take a look. Still not 100% sure what to expect from it, but it’s a YA novel that isn’t too long, so I may read this in between Big Book Fantasies, or if I need a genre-palette-cleanser. The publicity materials make a big deal about his previous novel, but I must admit I’d never heard of him before this came onto my radar.

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Olson-AdventureTimeEncyclopaediaMartin Olson, The Adventure Time Encyclopaedia (Titan Books)

Written by the Lord of Evil Himself, Hunson Abadeer (a.k.a. Marceline the Vampire Queen’s dad), to instruct and confound the demonic citizenry of the Nightosphere, The Adventure Time Encyclopaedia is perhaps the most dangerous book in history. Although seemingly a guidebook to the Land of Ooo and its postapocalyptic inhabitants, it is in fact an amusing nightmare of literary pitfalls, bombastic brain-boggles, and ancient texts designed to drive the reader mad.

Complete with secret lore and wizard spells, fun places you should visit and places where you will probably die, advice on whom to marry and whom not to marry, and how to make friends and destroy your enemies, this volume includes hand-written marginalia by Finn, Jake, and Marceline.

Arguably the greatest encyclopaedia ever written since the beginning of the cosmos, it is also an indispensable companion to humans and demons who know what time it is: Adventure Time!

I must admit, the Adventure Time craze took me completely by surprise. I’ve had access to review copies of the comic since before it was released by Boom Studios. But… it never clicked for me. Maybe I should give it another go. This book, which I have already dipped into, is rather fun. Recommended for your Christmas lists!

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Pratchett-40-RaisingSteamTerry Pratchett, Raising Steam (Doubleday)

To the consternation of the patrician, Lord Vetinari, a new invention has arrived in Ankh-Morpork – a great clanging monster of a machine that harnesses the power of all the elements: earth, air, fire and water. This being Ankh-Morpork, it’s soon drawing astonished crowds, some of whom caught the zeitgeist early and arrive armed with notepads and very sensible rainwear.

Moist von Lipwig is not a man who enjoys hard work – as master of the Post Office, the Mint and the Royal Bank his input is, of course, vital… but largely dependent on words, which are fortunately not very heavy and don’t always need greasing. However, he does enjoy being alive, which makes a new job offer from Vetinari hard to refuse…

Steam is rising over Discworld, driven by Mister Simnel, the man wi’ t’flat cap and sliding rule who has an interesting arrangement with the sine and cosine. Moist will have to grapple with gallons of grease, goblins, a fat controller with a history of throwing employees down the stairs and some very angry dwarfs if he’s going to stop it all going off the rails…

Does Terry Pratchett really need an introduction? He’s my favourite author. I have read and re-read all of the Discworld novels at least twice, and some (Vimes novels) four or five times. I really enjoyed Going Postal and Making Money (ah, that’s one I’ve only read once, actually…), so it’ll be nice to be re-united with Moist. That being said, I struggled with Snuff, so I hope this is a return to form.

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ReillyM-TheTournamentMatthew Reilly, The Tournament (Orion)

The year is 1546.

Europe lives in fear of the powerful Islamic empire to the East. Under its charismatic Sultan, Suleiman the Magnificent, it is an empire on the rise. It has defeated Christian fleets. It has conquered Christian cities.

Then the Sultan sends out an invitation to every king in Europe: send forth your champion to compete in a tournament unlike any other.

We follow the English delegation, selected by King Henry VIII himself, to the glittering city of Constantinople, where the most amazing tournament ever staged will take place.

But when the stakes are this high, not everyone plays fair, and for our team of plucky English heroes, winning may not be the primary goal. As a series of barbaric murders take place, a more immediate goal might simply be staying alive…

I am a big fan of Reilly’s novels. I’ve read a number of the Scarecrow novels, and all three Shane West novels (so much fun). With The Tournament, he seems to be doing something a little different – a wholly historical novel, rather than a contemporary adventure rooted in history. I’m really looking forward to reading this, so expect this on the blog very soon. Having lived in Istanbul, too, it’ll be interesting to see how the author realises the historical city on the page. It’s a fascinating city, with such a turbulent history. This is very promising. Before Christmas, hopefully.

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ResnickM-DoctorAndTheDinosaursMike Resnick, The Doctor and the Dinosaurs (Pyr)

Welcome to a Steampunk wild west starring Doc Holliday, with zombies, dinosaurs, robots, and cowboys.

The time is April, 1885. Doc Holliday lies in bed in a sanitarium in Leadville, Colorado, expecting never to leave his room again. But the medicine man and great chief Geronimo needs him for one last adventure. Renegade Comanche medicine men object to the newly-signed treaty with Theodore Roosevelt. They are venting their displeasure on two white men who are desecrating tribal territory in Wyoming. Geronimo must protect the men or renege on his agreement with Roosevelt. He offers Doc one year of restored health in exchange for taking on this mission.

Welcome to the birth of American paleontology, spearheaded by two brilliant men, Edward Drinker Cope and Othniel Charles Marsh, two men whose genius is only exceeded by their hatred for each other’s guts.

Now, with the aid of Theodore Roosevelt, Cole Younger, and Buffalo Bill Cody, Doc Holliday must save Cope and Marsh not only from the Comanches, not only from living, breathing dinosaurs, but from each other. And that won’t be easy.

I am woefully behind on this series. I’ve read the first book, The Buntline Special, which I found rather fun, but then I’ve just been unable to keep up-to-date. This sounds fun, too, though. I’ll endeavour to get caught up.

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RichardJ-SuicideExhibitionJustin Richards, The Suicide Exhibition (Del Rey UK)

A groundbreaking alternate history World War 2 thriller.

The threat is not new. The aliens have been here before – if indeed they are aliens. Obsessed with the Occult, Hitler and other senior Nazis believed they were destined to inherit the Earth. To this end, they are determined to recover ‘their’ ancient artifacts – the Ark of the Covenant, the Holy Grail, the Spear of Destiny. When Dunkirk veteran and Foreign Office trouble-shooter Major Guy Pentecross stumbles across a seemingly unbelievable conspiracy, he, together with pilot and American spy Sarah Diamond and SOE operative Leo Davenport, enter the shadow world of Section Z. All three have major roles to play as they uncover the Nazis’ insidious plot to use the alien Vril’s technology to win the war… at any cost.

This is The Thirty-Nine Steps crossed with Indiana Jones and Quatermass. Justin Richards has an extremely credible grasp of the period’s history and has transformed it into a groundbreaking alternate reality thriller.

This sounds pretty cool. I love alternate history, and Secret History. Having recently read and adored Lavie Tidhar’s The Violent Century and Ian Tregillis’s three Milkweed novels, I’m rather hoping this is another great addition to the sub-genre. I hadn’t heard of Richards before this arrived, but as it turns out, he is another alumnus of the Dr. Who novel-writing stable. I’m looking forward to this.

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WareD-EckoBurningDanie Ware, Ecko Burning (Titan Books)

Ruthless and ambitious, Lord Phylos has control of Fhaveon city, and is using her forces to bring the grasslands under his command. His last opponent is an elderly scribe who’s lost his best friend and wants only to do the right thing.

Seeking weapons, Ecko and his companions follow a trail of myth and rumour to a ruined city where both nightmare and shocking truth lie in wait.

When all of these things come together, the world will change beyond recognition.

Back in London, the Bard is offered the opportunity to realise everything he has ever wanted – if he will give up his soul.

A series that I have sadly not read, yet. It sounds great, and the premise makes it sound pretty original, too. I must make time to give this a try.

Also on CR: Interview with Danie Ware

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WilliamsJ-CopperPromiseJen Williams, The Copper Promise (Headline)

There are some far-fetched rumours about the caverns beneath the Citadel…

Some say the mages left their most dangerous secrets hidden there; others, that great riches are hidden there; even that gods have been imprisoned in its darkest depths.

For Lord Frith, the caverns hold the key to his vengeance. Against all the odds, he has survived torture and lived to see his home and his family taken from him… and now someone is going to pay. For Wydrin of Crosshaven and her faithful companion, Sir Sebastian Caverson, a quest to the Citadel looks like just another job. There’s the promise of gold and adventure. Who knows, they might even have a decent tale or two once they’re done.

But sometimes there is truth in rumour.

Soon this reckless trio will be the last line of defence against a hungry, restless terror that wants to tear the world apart. And they’re not even getting paid.

A debut, and another one I hadn’t heard of before it turned up in the mail. Sounds pretty interesting. I’ll hopefully get to it ASAP. (I recently got a copy of Headline’s new catalogue – there are some really interesting titles coming from them in the near future! Watch this space for more information…)

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WilliamsM-3TowerBrokenMazarkis Williams, The Tower Broken (Jo Fletcher Books)

The world is at breaking point. The nothing, a terrible darkness caused by the festering wounds of a god, bleeds out the very essence of all, of stone, silk – and souls. Emperor Sarmin thought he had stopped it, but it is spreading towards his city, Cerana – and he is powerless to halt the destruction. Even as Cerana fills with refugees, the Yrkmen armies arrive with conquest in mind, but they offer to spare Sarmin’s people if they will convert to the Mogyrk faith. Time is running out for Sarmin and his wife, Mesema: the Mage’s Tower is cracked; the last mage, sent to find a mysterious pattern-worker in the desert, has vanished; and Sarmin believes his kidnapped brother Daveed still has a part to play. The walls are crumbling around them…

The first novel in this series, The Emperor’s Knife, was pretty interesting. It started incredibly strong, but some of the steam was lost as the novel went on. Then, when the second novel was released, I ended up moving, and it got lost in the mix. (I do still have Knife Sworn, though, which will make it easier to catch up.)

Also on CR: Interview with Mazarkis Williams

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ZuckermanG-TheFrackersGregory Zuckerman, The Frackers (Portfolio/Penguin)

Everyone knew it was crazy to try to extract oil and natural gas buried in shale rock deep below the ground. Everyone, that is, except a few reckless wildcatters – who risked their careers to prove the world wrong.

Things looked grim for American energy in 2006. Oil production was in steep decline and natural gas was hard to find. The Iraq War threatened the nation’s already tenuous relations with the Middle East. China was rapidly industrializing and competing for resources. Major oil companies had just about given up on new discoveries on U.S. soil, and a new energy crisis seemed likely.

But a handful of men believed everything was about to change.

Far from the limelight, Aubrey McClendon, Harold Hamm, Mark Papa, and other wildcatters were determined to tap massive deposits of oil and gas that Exxon, Chevron, and other giants had dismissed as a waste of time. By experimenting with hydraulic fracturing through extremely dense shale — a process now known as fracking — the wildcatters started a revolution. In just a few years, they solved America’s dependence on imported energy, triggered a global environmental controversy — and made and lost astonishing fortunes.

No one understands these men — their ambitions, personalities, methods, and foibles — better than the award-winning Wall Street Journal reporter Gregory Zuckerman. His exclusive access enabled him to get close to the frackers and chronicle the untold story of how they transformed the nation and the world. The result is a dramatic narrative tracking a brutal competition among headstrong drillers. It stretches from the barren fields of North Dakota and the rolling hills of northeastern Pennsylvania to cluttered pickup trucks in Texas and tense Wall Street boardrooms.

Activists argue that the same methods that are creating so much new energy are also harming our water supply and threatening environmental chaos. The Frackers tells the story of the angry opposition unleashed by this revolution and explores just how dangerous fracking really is.

The frackers have already transformed the economic, environmental, and geopolitical course of history. Now, like the Rockefellers and the Gettys before them, they’re using their wealth and power to influence politics, education, entertainment, sports, and many other fields. Their story is one of the most important of our time.

That’s quite the epic-length synopsis… An issue that has fascinated me for years, I’m very glad I was able to get a review copy of this book. Hopefully get to it very soon.

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Michael Crichton’s Pulp Novels (Hard Case Crime)

There are just too many to write about them individually, so I’ll just say – these are a lot of fun. Slightly dated, but in an amusing way. I have four of them to give away, too, so keep an eye open for that giveaway post coming up next week.

“The Wolf Gift” by Anne Rice (Arrow/Random House)

Rice-WolfGift-UKPB

After reinventing the Vampire for modern literature, Anne Rice turns her attentions to Werewolf mythology with great success

MAN OR MONSTER?

After a brutal attack Reuben finds himself changing. His hair is longer, his skin is more sensitive and her can hear things he never could before.

Now he must confront the beast within him or lose himself completely.

I’m sure I’ve mentioned it before on the site, but Anne Rice is one of my favourite authors. Reading the Vampire Chronicles was a turning point in my life as a reader, and indeed set me on the path that turned me into as voracious a reader as I am today. The Vampire Lestat and Queen of the Damned have been re-read so many times, I almost know them off by heart. It was with great interest, therefore, that I started reading The Wolf Gift – after redefining vampire fiction with her novels, I was really interested to see what Rice could do with that other supernatural mainstay, the werewolf. What she’s come up with is pretty great.

As the story opens, our protagonist, Reuben, has been sent by the San Francisco Observer to write a piece about the uncertain future of the giant house at Nideck Point. He quickly falls in love with the grand mansion, and also a little with the elegant heiress, Marchent Nideck. It is a chance encounter between two unlikely people, one that leads to a magical evening that ends in a brutal and bloody attack. Stumbling about in the dark house, Reuben is bitten by an unseen beast. As dawn breaks, he is whisked to a San Francisco hospital (his mother is a leading surgeon, luckily). Kept under observation, Reuben starts undergoing a terrifying yet seductive transformation. His family and doctors are confounded by his recuperation and apparently-altered state.

Reuben’s transformation quickens after he leaves the hospital, and he soon assumes – temporarily each night – a savage, wolfen aspect. Strangely (and this is something that really set The Wolf Gift apart from Rice’s contemporary authors dabbling in werewolf fiction), in this were-state, Reuben develops the ability to sniff out, literally, evil. What follows is Reuben’s attempt to reconcile the beast component of his new gift and his apparent drive to do good. After the attack at Nideck Point, his editor assigns him the job of writing about each new “Man Wolf” attack and sighting. His nightly activities have San Franciscans and, eventually, others much further afield, enthralled: a Wulfen Super-Hero? Who has heard of such a thing? In addition, Reuben, with the help of a new ally and love-interest, attempts to find out more about his progenitors and his specie’s history. What is the connection with the mansion? How many others like him are there, prowling the night?

The story is fast-paced, and is nigh-impossible to put down. I really loved the overall pacing. Specifically, the fact that Reuben’s change isn’t sudden, nor is it particularly dramatic. He retains his humanity and mental faculties, and experiences heightened senses overall. He retains his personality, power of speech and so forth. I am particularly happy that Rice doesn’t have him turn into some over-sexed, cavorting, hirsute boy-toy.

As with the author’s vampire series, there is a sensual/sexual component to Reuben’s new state, but it is more a general pleasure at his new aspect and abilities, coupled with a near-orgasmic feeling that overcomes him during the change. It’s easy for a non-fan to poke fun at the current state of vampire and werewolf fiction, and the tendency for authors to, effectively, introduce these beasties into stories that are little more than Mills & Boon with supernatural overtones. Thankfully, Rice does not do this, and once again shows just how much can be done with these classic horror-creatures. This is a highly-original take on the werewolf mythology, and is as atmospheric and engrossing as her previous novels.

I’ve never really been able to put my finger on what it is, specifically, about Rice’s writing style and stories that hooks me so completely. The author’s prose is always expertly crafted, very fluid and her characters are always three-dimensional and stand-out examples of whatever type they have to be. The cast of The Wolf Gift is no exception. Reuben, his family, Laura, Felix et al, are all interesting, three-dimensional characters.

The Wolf Gift really offers a great reinterpretation of the werewolf myth: it’s very Rice-ian, in that it has far more nuance and grounding in mysterious, supernatural history. In fact, I think I only have one niggle with the novel, and that is that I think the book could have been longer. Rice’s descriptive passages were more sparse than I have come to expect from the author.

An interesting break with the norm for ‘origin’ stories, is that instead of front-loading the novel with history and bringing us up-to-date, Rice makes us wait, building up the narrative nicely to a very philosophical ‘history’ at the end. I think I would have preferred more history, but that comes from a deep, abiding affection for the author’s Vampire Chronicles and the historical portions of those tales. Whether Lois’s, Lestat’s, Marius’s, or Enkil & Akasha’s histories, they remain some of my all-time favourite passages – I have yet to find an author who can write the past as seductively and atmospherically as Rice.

It would be no exaggeration to say that the Vampire Chronicles marked a huge turning point in my reading (tastes and habits – never before did I spend hours on end, and days at a time reading one author’s books). And, multiple reads later, they are novels that have lived up to my fond memories.

Where Rice’s vampires were largely loners, or only tolerable of company for shorter periods of time, her werewolves are inherently pack animals. How Reuben straddles his past life and his new one is very nicely done. Her other characters find themselves in similar situations. The way they handle Reuben’s changes are also interesting: his surgeon mother, struggling to make sense of test results (or lack thereof), unable to understand what’s happening to her “Sunshine Boy”. His priest brother, whom he confides in, struggling to place Reuben’s new aspect within his belief system. Only one character’s interactions with Reuben were a little difficult to accept: Laura’s acceptance from first sight never rang true for me – I think I know what Rice was aiming for, but it needed more time to develop, in my humble opinion. Laura’s arrival in the novel was… surprising, and in the hands of any other author, that relationship would have likely been a disaster of poorly-written “erotic” supernatural bestiality. Stuart’s addition to the story was also rather sudden, and I think his part in the story, and rather rapid introduction, could have done with some better integration.

The Wolf Gift is a perfect example of how supernatural fiction does not have to be Mills & Boon With Beasties. Rice isn’t trying to make us comfortable, and Reuben’s bestial side is vividly portrayed. His vigilante acts are brutal and bloody. Rice really knows how to show-and-not-tell, though, which only makes her novels that much better than so very many of her contemporaries. (Much of what happens is obvious, but the “sex” scenes are very short, and non-graphic, and often off-screen).

Overall, this is a great novel. This is an interesting new set of characters, and I really hope we get to read more about them and the history of these werewolves.

Highly recommended.

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Rice-WolfGift-UKBlogTour

For more on Anne Rice’s novels, be sure to visit her website, her Facebook page, and follow her on Twitter. For Friday’s Arrow Books competition, visit their Facebook page.